Digital transformation is not only rewiring technology but it’s also causing shifts in how innovation is perceived, as the traditional model of innovation is often described as tired and expired. Large businesses are no longer ignoring this fact. Companies interested in remaining competitive and investing in new businesses recognise innovation needs to extend what their R&D groups can deliver, including leveraging external start-ups, those with the audacity and naivety to shake up entire industries and formulate new products from ideas that companies haven’t even contemplated.
Companies struggle to keep up with the rapid acceleration of enterprise digital technologies. More is being invented at a faster rate, but internal teams are increasingly challenged to deliver products at the same pace, quality and scalability as fast-moving start-ups. Big 18-month product cycles are increasingly outdated when networked solutions and improvements are continuously delivered to users. The acceleration of mobile technology and propagation of cloud computing have lowered the barriers for start-ups enabling creation of new categories of products and services, with the effect of unseating incumbents. Everything digital is becoming liquefied and being pushed to the Cloud, be it internal, external, or both. Traditional vendors want to compete, but much like their traditional enterprise customers, they are challenged to anticipate change, execute quickly, and remain competitive.
Welcome to the post-idea box world: A place where companies are no longer just contemplating ideas and disruptive innovation. In the digital space, if a company cannot shepherd an idea from conceptualisation to product at start-up speed, then it’s time to look to incubation and acceleration. While incubation can be both internal and external, the former is more difficult to properly implement as questions may arise about the initiative’s alignment with the company’s core business, and also a resistance to exploring adjacencies to the core business.
Challenges to innovation have changed so radically that it now requires a level of talent and culture that isn’t ingrained in most corporations. Enterprises are gradually modifying how they think, work and interact across their entire value-chain. This is the digitisation of the enterprise.
We all learn from entrepreneurs and their propensity to change the status quo. It’s about being software- and data-centric, resulting in a more elastic innovation, and allowing rapid real-world experimentation and pivots.
This begs the larger question: Is your company being proactive? Will your company embrace compelling adjacencies to the core business—like how Amazon monetised its cloud infrastructure as a service—or will it continue to iterate on past successes? What is needed is to be proactive precisely about bridging with the imperceptible innovations that will change the games and create new ones. These do not come from traditional companies—none of them came up with a Google, Facebook, Amazon or WhatsApp.
With incubation and acceleration, companies turn to digital entrepreneurs to safely explore new channels of innovation that may threaten the core business but could open entirely new opportunities. They may facilitate the creation of new services, businesses or products that executives might not have thought viable. Notably, it isn’t solely about acquisition. Collaborating with start-ups, supporting their innovations and working closely with the founders encourages an ecosystem of relationships that can gradually transform the sponsor company’s culture and invigorate it with new ideas.
Entrepreneurs inspire us and bring clarity as they tend to helpfully oversimplify the complexity that companies get bogged down in and expect as if it were destiny. Start-ups are able to rapidly innovate and demonstrate adoption at scale of new technologies They can also innovate permission-less outside the constraints of the enterprise like compliance and compatibility with the existing.
Our Orange Fab accelerator, which just entered its fourth season, helps us keep up with the latest initiatives emerging from the Silicon Valley and the larger tech ecosystem. This was the right way to create an accelerator where we’d apply these principles to ourselves and not only connect with start-ups, but host, coach and introduce them to decision-makers at Orange. We’ve generated high-level interest from numerous sectors asking the question: “How can we follow the same pattern and should we create our own accelerator?” This is why we created Fab Force, a collaboration of global brands working with the Silicon Valley to stay ahead of the curve.
Enterprises are innovative when realising that it’s not so much about making the technology work for them, but more about transforming themselves to adapt to the changing landscape. Compelling programmes can attract the right entrepreneurs to your business, and incubating and accelerating their innovations can enable greater agility and foresight while feeding a larger network of collaborators committed to your success.
It is the march of history. The entire economy is being digitised and it’s good news for all players involved, both established and new. There are tremendous opportunities in a bright future ahead.
By Georges Nahon
Georges Nahon is the CEO of Orange Silicon Valley, a fully-owned subsidiary of Orange, the Paris-based telecommunications operator